Let me begin by saying that in the ongoing debate about the relative intelligence of cats and dogs, I am firmly on the side of the cats. As I see it, a dog’s willingness to grovel when scolded is his greatest talent. Many people find this a touching and endearing quality. Never mind that the dog has no idea what he was scolded for and will repeat the offending behaviour as soon as he has opportunity.
Now, I will admit that a well-trained dog is quite an admirable thing. I have known a few in my time and found them to be fairly pleasant company. I also admit that training a cat is quite beyond the common man’s ability. Truth be told, I think my cat is trying to train me. And succeeding, too.
As a cat lover, I believe I am in respectable company. Renowned cat lovers include Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Mark Twain, Victor Hugo, Samuel Johnson, Sir Walter Scott, Abraham Lincoln, Sir Isaac Newton, Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Francis of Assisi. Famous cat haters include Napoleon Bonaparte, Dwight Eisenhower, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
Do you see a pattern emerging here? Writers, artists, scientists and benefactors of mankind like cats. Men who are accustomed to having every command immediately obeyed detest cats.
My current cat is a ten-year-old black Maine Coon cat. She doesn’t have a pedigree to prove her ancestry, she was born in an abandoned car in a back alley and we didn’t know exactly what we were getting when we adopted her as a kitten. As she grew, her extra large size, long hair, gentle personality and long ruff under her chin became positive identifiers of her ancestry. Her name is Panda.
Often, as I sit at my computer, a black shape materializes somewhere near me. Panda’s long, fine hair and compact manner of sitting or lying tend to blur her outline, the most distinguishing feature being two golden orbs directed at me. She waits patiently until I get up and then leads me to whatever it is that she expects of me, the place where her treats are stored or the place where her brush and comb are found. Or maybe she was just waiting for the chair I was sitting in.
We started using the treats to lure her inside at bedtime and they have become an established part of her life. A few years ago we lived in a house with a dirt basement, accessible only by a trap door in the utility room. Every time I opened that door, Panda would hear, from wherever she was in the house and come down the steps with me to explore the mysteries of the basement. Then I would have to rattle the bag of treats to get her to come back up.
After a while I began to suspect that the only reason she still went down those steps was to get the treats when she came back up. One day I opened the trap door and when she came to see, I said to her, “You know, you really wouldn’t have to do this. You could just stay upstairs and I would give you your treats anyway.”
It seemed like that was what she was waiting for. She never went down those stairs again, but when I came back up she was always waiting for me by the drawer in the kitchen cabinets where the treats were kept. Twice I forgot. The first time I discovered her half an hour later, still waiting patiently in front of that drawer. The second time she came and pawed at my pant leg, then led me to the desired spot.
Can anyone tell me what went on here? I know a cat can learn to understand a word or two in English, but I don’t believe that she could understand two complete sentences. I don’t believe in telepathy either. But somehow, there at the top of the steps, we came to an agreement that we both understood. Maybe she just figured that I had finally learned the lesson she had been trying to teach me?